Garlic Cream Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole

When folks “talk turkey” about holiday dinners, they, in fact, don’t talk much about turkey. Or ham. (Though they might if it’s roast beef.) They instead remember sides or desserts. Nonna’s baked ziti. Oma’s sauerkraut. Dad’s gravy. Aunt Susan’s pumpkin pie. Because of that, the menu is often a done deal. Who can fight history? As a longtime Thanksgiving cook (I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner at 24 hugely pregnant with my first child), I pore over each year’s November magazines and keep Thanksgiving cookbooks on my coffee table from September on–always interested in finding something new to dream about. You can well imagine it’s my favorite holiday.

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Thanksgiving-An Intimate View (Redux)

This post is an update from a Thanksgiving post in 2009 and features new text/ photos, printable recipes, and more.

While some Americans are having a larger Thanksgiving, quite a few are again limiting numbers and thinking about a smaller menu. A turkey roulade (roo-LAHD) — a rolled up, stuffed turkey breast served up with a pan or two of roasted vegetables is for just that more intimate occasion and will serve 1-2 with plenty of leftovers, 4 with some, and 6 without much at all in those pesky where-are-the-lids Tupperware containers. (You can double it all for a larger group if need be, but do plan on more time. I also include a couple of other options for one-pan sides.) With some prep, this beautiful meal goes into the oven all together and is done in less than an hour — which makes it a lovely small dinner party menu as well. If you can get a boned turkey breast and don’t have to bone it yourself, you are way ahead of the game. Not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes and gravy or …? You can surely add other dishes though you don’t need them. (See TIPS below for links to Brussels sprouts I made, gravy without drippings, my spicy cranberry sauce, etc.) Easily purchased appetizers and a bakery pumpkin pie help give you most of the day off, a lot less dish washing, and time to watch “Home for the Holidays,” with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, and Charles Durning– one of my favorite Thanksgiving movies. No movies, but want music? Here are some listening ideas.

Note: While this meal is basically gluten-free, do check all purchased ingredients, including turkey, for GF labels. Our Honeysuckle frozen turkey breast did not contain gluten, but other brands might.

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Apple-Pecan Pie

When fall finally arrives (not sure it’s here yet), it’s time to bake again — and by November, it’s time to think of baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I am anything in life, I am a pie baker. I’m not a county fair blue ribbon winner, but I’m something better — I’m the person folks like to see walking into their house or the church potluck with a pie basket on her arm. It wasn’t always that way, but pie baking is a progressive art or one that is a lifelong undertaking. I began with pies that didn’t taste badly, but were pale and puny at best and were luckily called out by older, experienced pie bakers in the mid-70’s. (“You could have left that in the oven a while longer.”) Even now, hundreds and hundreds of pies later, there’s the occasional crust that won’t hold together, for example, and gets ceremoniously dumped straight into the garbage can. It doesn’t faze me anymore, but pies continue to be educational as long as you’re willing to bake them. If you don’t bake one for a while and then assume you’ll be fine, that pie may or may not bake into something worth eating with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

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Creamy Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

Every once in a while, it’s time to cook up an old recipe on the blog, take new photos, and tweak the dish up to today’s standard. That’s exactly what happened the other day with the blog’s very first pumpkin soup from way back in November, 2009. With my book club meeting in my living room last Thursday, I thought I’d move away from the same-old, same-old cheese and whatever….and make a soup I could serve in coffee mugs along with the glass of wine we enjoy. Change = good. I looked at the not few pumpkin soups I’ve blogged and settled on the simple, but fun 12-year-old version that is finished off with peanuts and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. As I sometimes will, I tried making it right from the original recipe, which is so old it’s not even printable. While good, it needed perking up, thickening, and expanding. I was amazed, though, to see how readable the recipe was even then. That’s not to say it didn’t need editing and redoing. It did.

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One-Pan Bacon-Chicken Legs with Cabbage, Potatoes, and Apples: Your Fall into Cooking Dinner!

This simple Oktoberfest braise will be a happy addition to dinner rotation. Leftovers are great!

You know how you just love those meals where you toss everything into one pan and slide it into the oven? Here’s another to add to your list of easy favorites that also makes the house smell like someone special is coming to dinner. They are and it’s you! My very fall-ish one-pan chicken braise is simple to grasp, fun to make, and will fill you up happily this very week. (Sorry I’m a little late to the Oktoberfest party… but it couldn’t be helped.) Chicken and apples, much like pork and apples, are a lip-smacking and quintessential autumn pairing. If you like this dish, it can go into your regular dinner rotation and — hey — you’ve got something different to eat! Leftovers are luscious for small households and the recipe can be decreased or increased. Look through the photos, read the instructions, and put the inexpensive and healthy ingredients on your shopping list, though you might have some of them already. Check under TIPS to see about how to change it up to suit your tastes. Here you go…

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Salsa-Cheddar Omelet with Pickled Onion

Beating eggs with salsa instead of water or milk is one of Alyce’s tricks that you absolutely need in your kitchen. This omelet also features an extra-easy cooking method you’ll want to try if omelet-making has been baffling you.

When people talk seriously to me about why they don’t cook or why they dislike cooking, there are a few oft-repeated reasons. One is the time it takes. (So does getting to a drive-through.) Another is “too many ingredients.” (Buy Jamie Oliver’s 5-Ingredients Cookbook.) Third is not knowing what to cook. (Food and Wine: Meal Planning 101.) A fourth favorite is, “I hate the mess.” (That’s why God made dishwashers.) The other day on Twitter, there was a thread that began with a comment that went something like this, “If I had known that as an adult I’d have to come up with something for dinner every night the rest of my life, I’d never have grown up.” A multitude of responses intoned the same lament. While those feelings indicate any number of problems (“That’ll be 5 cents, please.), cooking truly needn’t be one. Devoting a little time to planning, shopping, and learning how to cook your favorite meals solves a lot of it. One can’t just show up in the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. or p.m. and hope for divine inspiration. Unless, that is, you’re counting on breakfast for dinner (or breakfast!) and know you have eggs in the fridge — or, if you’re elsewhere in the world — on your counter. In that case, you have a million options. And my Salsa-Cheddar Omelet with Pickled Onion is just one. You can come up with the other 999,999.

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Oven-Roasted Rosemary Halibut with Fresh Tomato-Zucchini Sauce

Shown here with white beans.

It’s easy to avoid cooking fish or to cook it as simply as we can possibly figure because we’re unsure of our fish-cooking abilities. Or maybe fresh fish isn’t so available and feels expensive — especially in a land-locked state. Perhaps there’s a fear factor involved or we wonder, “Is fish really good for us?” How fast does it go bad? When is it done? How do I not overcook it? So we go with grilled wild salmon once a month in good weather. Salt, pepper, lemon. Air Fried fish and chips might be a step up. A pound of shrimp for Christmas Eve. Truth to tell, fish is good for us, is readily available nationwide (even if frozen), and is the original fast –and easy — food. Lots of people order fish from restaurant menus, but hesitate to cook much at home. Want to change that at your house?

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Ham and Blue Cheese Spread for Game Day

One day it’s brats and beers on the sweltering deck. The next you’re turning on the heat along with the tv and searching for game day snacks. (Which still could be brats and beers.) It doesn’t seem as if that would be possible, but in Colorado, it often is. We could see just such a weather change several times over the course of any September. But there’s always one metamorphic day when our whole world definitely changes from summer to fall and that’s when “the mountain” (better known to the rest of the world as Pike’s Peak) looks like Brigadoon from my front yard:

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Pumpkin-Lentil Soup

From one year to the next, I keep a few cans of my favorite Libby’s 100% pumpkin in the pantry. Thanks to my father-in-law, Gene Morgan (who spent years in grocery management), I know that “old” pumpkin makes for better pumpkin pies. I see no difference in pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, or pumpkin martinis but pie — oh yes. The pie filling is darker, feels richer-thicker though still silky, and sports a deeper flavor profile with the aged cans. This year, I’m very glad I kept those few and a couple more because when I put in an order for pumpkin, my King Sooper’s app indicated zero, nada, zip, nil, nought, nothing, though it allowed as there were a few cans of the organic variety left. I don’t like those for pie (ewww), but I’ll take them in a pinch for baked goods and so tapped the icon. When I went to pick up my groceries, I didn’t even get the organic cans. Yikes. What was the story? Should I be grabbing a few pie pumpkins out of the produce section and getting out the roasting pan? Consider a Thanksgiving featuring sweet potato pie? While I have nothing against sweet potato pie as my parents were both southerners, I like pumpkin pie so much better. What’s a baker to do?

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Plum Crostata with Walnut Streusel

In September as the peaches wane and the apples are just ripening, here in Colorado we have trees and trees full of plums. These aren’t the big old black, handful plums we see a bit later on, but rather are the small dark purple, firm-when-ripe Italian prune plums. While excellent for snacking, perhaps they’re even better for baking since they tend to hold their shape and aren’t overly sweet. You might think of plums as the fall bag-lunch fruit —and I do, too— but for the past few years I find I adore a beautiful plum tart or, in this case, crostata.

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